Italians vote in regional polls seen as test for Berlusconi
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Last Updated: Sunday, March 28, 2010, 20:19
Rome: Italians on Sunday voted in regional elections seen as a referendum on embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi two years into his mandate.

Pollsters predict gains for Berlusconi's troublesome coalition partner, the anti-immigration Northern League, and a low turnout reflecting voters' disenchantment with the political class after an exceptionally negative campaign.

Some 41 million Italians are eligible to vote in the elections for governors of 13 of the country's 20 regions.

Berlusconi, flagging in opinion surveys and beset by scandal, has campaigned hard to get people out to vote for his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party for the last electoral test before his term ends in 2013.

If the populist Northern League makes major gains in the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto, it is likely to demand a new cabinet post and city hall in Berlusconi's native Milan, Italy's economic and financial capital.

A resurgent Northern League could also further alienate a key Berlusconi ally, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini, often tipped as a successor to the three-time prime minister.

The party was an essential ally in Berlusconi's return to power in 2008, campaigning on pledges of cracking down on illegal immigration and crime, often linking the two.

After a year in which Berlusconi, 73, has been dogged by scandal over his private life and corruption probes involving his sprawling media empire, the February arrests of PDL members accused of accepting kickbacks added to his woes.

That scandal was quickly followed by embarrassment when the PDL fumbled over its candidate lists in Rome's Lazio region and Berlusconi's native Lombardy.

And earlier this month prosecutors opened a probe into allegations that Berlusconi tried to gag a political talk show that is often critical of the billionaire prime minister.

Berlusconi, who campaigned for the PDL on the slogan "Love Always Wins Over Envy and Hatred", has seen his approval rating slip to 44 per cent, while the PDL-Northern League government scored only 38 per cent in a recent opinion poll.


First Published: Sunday, March 28, 2010, 20:19

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